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Column by John Lohn, Swimming World senior writer
SHANGHAI, China, July 24. HIS name hasn't been mentioned much in the past few months. And as discussion waged in the weeks leading up the World Championships, few called for Peter Vanderkaay to be a medalist in the 400 freestyle. Well, now that the preliminary heats have come to a close, expect a few individuals to adjust their taut sheets.
Taking control of his heat from the outset, Vanderkaay looked every bit capable of earning a medal in his signature event. While he didn't post the top time of the morning, his effort of 3:45.02 ranked second and will certainly get the chatter going. China's Sun Yang, obviously the home-nation favorite, blistered his final lap and notched the fastest prelim swim with a clocking of 3:44.87.
The 400 freestyle has been discussed frequently as one of the headlining events of the competition, thanks to the anticipated showdown between Sun and his Asian rival, reigning Olympic champion Tae Hwan Park. Lost in the shuffle, and amid so-so times during the leadup to the World Champs, has been Vanderkaay.
The bronze medalist in the 200 freestyle from the 2008 Beijing Olympics and a two-time members of the United States' Olympic-title-winning 800 free relay, Vanderkaay is no stranger to international success. Still, since the end of the last Olympiad, Vanderkaay has largely flown under the radar. Part of the reason was his switch from Club Wolverine to the training of Gator Swim Club, under the directions of Gregg Troy.
Anyone who follows the athletes of Gator understands that in-season highlights are few and far between. It's a reason we've seen relatively quiet performances from the likes of Ryan Lochte and Elizabeth Beisel. Now that the World Champs are here and the lights are shining, however, it's time for the Gators to chomp. Vanderkaay can be included in that conversation, as he pursues the first individual medal of his career from the World Champs.
"I'm excited about my result, but I usually feel better at night, so I can go faster," Vanderkaay said during his stop in the mixed zone. "I haven't been very fast this season."
While Vanderkaay excelled in his heat, the 400 free prelims offered some curiosities. Although Sun Yang and defending champ Paul Biedermann looked good, there are questions surrounding the efforts of Park and Yannick Agnel, the rising French star. Both men made the final, but Park qualified seventh and Agnel was sixth.
**Question of the Morning: We'll throw out a question following each prelim session to generate some discussion. Today's question: After seeing the morning lineups for the United States in the 400 freestyle relays, what foursome would you go with for the championship final?
**An argument can be made that the finest performance of the morning from the American contingent was courtesy of Dana Vollmer in the 100 butterfly. Racing in the fifth of six heats, Vollmer looked strong over the back half of her race to touch in 56.97, the top time of the morning and just off her American record of 56.94.
That kind of start is a huge plus for Vollmer, who figures to be one of the headliners for the United States women. In terms of the 400 medley relay, which figures to be hotly contested toward the end of the week, a huge boost from Vollmer could be what the American squad needs to grab the top step on the podium.
**If there was any questioning the mental state of Brazil's Cesar Cielo, following his appearance in front of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, he put those queries to rest in the prelims of the 50 butterfly. Cielo took the top spot for the semifinals with a time of 23.26, a hundredth of a second quicker than the effort of Australian Geoff Huegill.
Cielo, of course, had to receive a ruling in his favor from CAS just days before the meet in order to compete in these championships after testing positive at the Maria Lenk Trophy for Furosemide. The matter went to CAS after FINA challenged the warning that was handed to Cielo by the Brazilian Swimming Federation.
The way Cielo responded to the controversy in his first race was a good sign for the former Auburn star, who is the defending champion in the 50 and 100 freestyles. Interestingly, Cielo contested his prelim next to South Africa's Roland Schoeman, who expressed his displeasure in the ruling by CAS to allow Cielo to compete.
**The venue here at the Oriental Sports Center is gorgeous, somewhat resembling the Qwest Center, the Omaha, Nebraska site of the United States Olympic Trials in 2008 and again in 2012. The stands were nearly full during the preliminary session, with the Chinese crowd strongly getting behinds its swimmers when they stepped to the blocks.
**The most surprising swim of the morning has to go to New Zealand's Lauren Boyle, who qualified third for the final of the 400 freestyle. Boyle touched the wall in 4:05.86 to win the last of the heats. Italy's Federica Pellegrini earned the No. 1 seed for the final, thanks to a performance of 4:04.76.
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